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Former USC Dean Sentenced in Mark Ridley-Thomas Bribery Case

Former USC Dean Sentenced in Mark Ridley-Thomas Bribery Case

Former Dean of the University of Southern California (USC), School of Social Work, Marilyn L. Flynn. (Courtesy of Mark Berndt/USC)

City News Service

City News Service

7/24/2023

Updated: 7/24/2023

LOS ANGELES—Marilyn Flynn, an 84-year-old former dean of the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Social Work—who admitted to bribing longtime Los Angeles politician Mark Ridley-Thomas while he served on the county Board of Supervisors—was sentenced on July 24 to three years probation and ordered to pay a $150,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer also granted the prosecution’s recommendation of 18 months of electronic monitoring during Ms. Flynn’s term of probation. The judge rejected a defense argument for two years probation without home confinement and a fine of $100,000.
“A lifetime of dedication and service is something courts don’t often see,” Judge Fischer said of the defendant who was elected dean of the social work school five times. “It is unfortunate that such an illustrious career comes to an end [in this way].”
The judge said she decided against imprisonment after considering such mitigating factors as Ms. Flynn’s “early and fulsome acceptance of responsibility,” including her voluntary disclosure of incriminating information previously unknown to the government.
Ms. Flynn “hasn’t tried to minimize her actions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson said.
The ex-dean pleaded guilty in September to one count of bribery, admitting that she agreed to have the university serve as a conduit for a $100,000 payment from Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s campaign account to the social work school.
Per their agreement, Ms. Flynn then arranged for a nearly simultaneous $100,000 payment from USC to the United Ways of California for the benefit of the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative—a new nonprofit initiative led by Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s son, who had abruptly resigned from his elected position in the California State Assembly.
To facilitate the scheme, Ms. Flynn and Mr. Ridley-Thomas concealed from USC that Mr. Ridley-Thomas had directed the payment to the university with the intent that the funds be used to support USC’s nearly simultaneous $100,000 payment to United Ways and the nonprofit, Ms. Flynn’s plea agreement states.
Immediately after Ms. Flynn informed Mr. Ridley-Thomas that the university payment to United Ways and the nonprofit had been “cleared,” Mr. Ridley-Thomas facilitated a May 10, 2018, meeting between the dean and a high-level county official to move forward on the county’s approval of Ms. Flynn’s desired expansion of an online mental health services contract that would have improved her school’s ailing finances.
A student wears a facemask at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles on March 11, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

A student wears a facemask at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles on March 11, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Ms. Flynn’s attorneys wrote that the ex-dean was not driven by greed, but by “a desire to help her school, the graduate students in the social work program, and those who needed greater access to mental health services. She recognizes and takes responsibility for losing her moral compass along the way.”
Mr. Ridley-Thomas, 68, faces the prospect of years in prison after being convicted at trial on March 30 on single counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud, and four counts of honest services wire fraud.
Sentencing for Mr. Ridley-Thomas is scheduled for Aug. 21.
Last month, Judge Fischer upheld the convictions, denying Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s efforts to have the verdicts vacated.
The former city councilman was accused of steering county contracts toward the university social work school in exchange for the $100,000 contribution to the organization run by his son.
A juror who spoke after the verdicts were announced said the panel found “dishonesty” in Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s actions involving the transfer of $100,000 that traveled from his campaign fund to USC, then to the United Ways of California, and finally to the nonprofit.
Jurors, who reached their verdicts on their fifth day of deliberations in Los Angeles federal court, acquitted the Southland political giant of a dozen fraud counts.
Attorneys for Mr. Ridley-Thomas are appealing the conviction.
Mark Ridley-Thomas attends the opening of the Helen Keller Park Screening Room in Los Angeles on Dec. 10, 2014. (David Buchan/Getty Images)

Mark Ridley-Thomas attends the opening of the Helen Keller Park Screening Room in Los Angeles on Dec. 10, 2014. (David Buchan/Getty Images)

In court Monday, Ms. Flynn told the judge she was “greatly embarrassed” and deeply regretted the “distress” she caused to the university’s community and its social work school.
Her attorney, Brian J. Hennigan, said Ms. Flynn was motivated to go along with Mr. Ridley-Thomas’ plan for “the public good. This was not a case where she was looking to line her pockets.”
An expansion of the telehealth contract would have been a benefit to the school, the students, and the people of the county—not to Ms. Flynn, Mr. Hennigan said. However, the judge said she had a “personal interest” in the success of the contract, which would have raised money for the financially troubled school and allowed her to keep her position.
The defense attorney said the job of dean “is a tough road because you are required to raise funds.”
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